Open Letter to BHA

Hi, thanks for responding.
First I must assume since you replied to my tweet that you at least saw this post linked in that tweet?

You will find linked in that post links to other specific relevant posts. (And of course if you were to browse, there are many more on the relevant topics on that blog over the past 12 years.) Following a previous email exchange @ BHA, I did contemplate writing an open letter to Jim, since it was clear his style is much more open to the issues.

Here goes:

In a nutshell the problem is BHA seems to be defining itself in terms of what it is against. For secularism sure, but secularism defined in terms of being against any forms of religious faith in any positions of public authority or even influence.

The whole 3-Horsemen or “Ditchkins”  crusade against the “excesses” of religious faith – Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, plus Dennett, plus Pinker, and more recently Krauss getting on the celebrity bandwagon. 6 Horsemen of which 4 are US and 2 British? Not to mention the other celebrities in the social media. Gervais, Fry, Izzard and many more.

As Jim says these guys and the various campaigns hitching themselves to their media celebrity have already “cleared the way”. To keep knocking the religious is like “flogging a dead horse” or “shooting fish in a barrel” – too easy – that easy argument is already won. So easy that their styles are often sarcastic, sneering and mocking against their religious adversaries. Even the “bit of fun” in the BHA questionnaire had this sarcastic tone. The whole thing has become very destructive and polarising.

It seems you must be either FOR rationality (defined in “scientistic” terms) and AGAINST irrationality (defined in terms of religious faiths). Or you are FOR religious faith.

Err no. Reality is that NOT ALL aspects of religious faiths are irrational. Certainly not when it comes to traditions that capture structures of human value, where decisions require “policy” that can’t immediately be resolved by science in the governance of public and economic life generally – personal local, national, international, cosmic. Sure, no religious faith has ever had any monopoly on these, but the history of humanity has many values that happen to be enshrined in traditions that have been maintained by the humanities and institutions beyond science, including religions. We can’t wipe away history. We can’t start again like the fabled Irishman who, when asked for directions, said “If I wanted to get there, I wouldn’t start from here.” The rational thing to do would be to investigate and debate where real human value lies, here and now for the future.

By polarising the debate into science vs religion, either / or, we are in danger of throwing out a valuable baby with the bathwater. Ending up like The Only Way is Essex. There is a massive middle-ground to be taken into account, to be integrated, accommodated, valued. Rationality comes in many varied forms and science is NOT the sole arbiter of human value, any more than TOWIE should be representative of “British” humanity. God forbid 😉

Simplest recommendation:

Take a leaf from Jim’s book, and look at what that Cambridge debate (or the more recent Oxford Union philosophy of science debate) would have looked like if it had been Jim on the humanist side of the debate. The people on the other side are not “opponents” they are fellow humans we need to integrate (accommodate) into a balanced world view of human values.

If the BHA itself – as an organisation – cannot recognise the issues, I’m not sure what else to suggest. The current flavour of the BHA is “inhuman”. I could suggest intelligent and constructive topics for public debate. Take some clues from Melvyn Bragg’s “The Value of Culture” for example:

Generally – What are human values? Where do they reside? How are they maintained and developed? More specific example – If our history of values lies in culture, where does science fit with culture? Many more possible. Articles, papers, debates, examples from real public life.

Put the humanism back in the BHA. Leave the “knocking” to the court jesters, that’s what they’re for.


[Slightly edited for the blog context.]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.